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How PC Power Supplies Work

How PC Power Supplies Work

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Published by ajayakomna

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Published by: ajayakomna on Jun 20, 2009
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How PC Power Supplies Work
If there is any one component that is absolutely vital to the operation of a computer, it isthe power supply. Without it, a computer is just an inert box full of plastic and metal. Thepower supply converts the alternating current (AC) line from your home to the directcurrent (DC) needed by the personal computer. In this article, we'll learn how PC powersupplies work and what the wattage ratings meanPowerSupplyIn a personal computer (PC), the power supply is the metal box usually found in a cornerof the case. The power supply is visible from the back of many systems because it containsthe power-cord receptacle and the cooling fan.This is a power supply removed from its PC case. Thesmall, red switch at right, above the power-cordconnector, is for changing line voltages in variouscountries.The interior of a power supply.Power supplies, often referred to as "switching power supplies", use switcher technology toconvert the AC input to lower DC voltages. The typical voltages supplied are:
3.3 volts
5 volts
12 voltsThe 3.3- and 5-volts are typically used by digital circuits, while the 12-volt is used to runmotors indisk drivesand fans. The main specification of a power supply is in watts. A wattis the product of the voltage in volts and the current in amperes or amps. If you have beenaround PCs for many years, you probably remember that the original PCs had large redtoggle switches that had a good bit of heft to them. When you turned the PC on or off, youknew you were doing it. These switches actually controlled the flow of 120 volt power tothe power supply.Today you turn on the power with a little push button, and you turn off the machine with amenu option. These capabilities were added to standard power supplies several years ago.The operating system can send a signal to the power supply to tell it to turn off. The pushbutton sends a 5-volt signal to the power supply to tell it when to turn on. The powersupply also has a circuit that supplies 5 volts, called VSB for "standby voltage" even whenit is officially "off", so that the button will work.Switcher TechnologyPrior to 1980 or so, power supplies tended to be heavy and bulky. They used large, heavytransformers and huge capacitors (some as large as soda cans) to convert line voltage at120 volts and 60 hertz into 5 volts and 12 volts DC.
The switching power supplies used today are much smaller and lighter. They convert the60-Hertz (Hz, or cycles per second) current to a much higherfrequency, meaning morecycles per second. This conversion enables a small, lightweight transformer in the powersupply to do the actual voltage step-down from 110 volts (or 220 in certain countries) tothe voltage needed by the particular computer component. The higher-frequency ACcurrent provided by a switcher supply is also easier to rectify and filter compared to theoriginal 60-Hz AC line voltage, reducing the variances in voltage for the sensitive electroniccomponents in the computer.In this photo you can see three small transformers(yellow) in the center. To the left are two cylindricalcapacitors. The large finned pieces of aluminum are heatsinks. The left heat sink has transistors attached to it.These are the transistors in charge of doing the switching-- they provide high-frequency power to the transformers.Attached to the right heat sink are diodes that rectify ACsignals and turn them into DC signals.A switcher power supply draws only the power it needs from the AC line. The typicalvoltages and current provided by a power supply are shown on the label on a powersupply.Personal computer power supply label.VSB is the standby voltage provided to thepower switch.Switcher technology is also used to make AC from DC, as found in many of the automobilepower inverters used to run AC appliances in an automobile and inuninterruptible power supplies. Switcher technology in automotive power inverters changes the direct currentfrom the auto battery into alternating current. The transformer uses alternating current tomake the transformer in the inverter step the voltage up to that of household appliances(120 VAC).
Power Supply StandardizationOver time, there have been at least six different standard power supplies for personalcomputers. Recently, the industry has settled on using ATX-based power supplies. ATX isan industry specification that means the power supply has the physical characteristics to fita standard ATX case and the electrical characteristics to work with an ATX motherboard.PC power-supply cables use standardized, keyed connectors that make it difficult toconnect the wrong ones. Also, fan manufacturers often use the same connectors as thepower cables for disk drives, allowing a fan to easily obtain the 12 volts it needs. Color-coded wires and industry standard connectors make it possible for the consumer to havemany choices for a replacement power supply.A PC power supply removed from its PC case. Cables andconnectors at right supply DC voltages.Advanced Power ManagementAdvanced Power Management (APM) offers a set of five different states that your systemcan be in. It was developed by Microsoft and Intel for PC users who wish to conservepower. Each system component, including theoperating system,basic input/output system  (BIOS),motherboardand attached devices all need to be APM-compliant to be able to use this feature. Should you wish to disable APM because you suspect it is using up systemresources or causing a conflict, the best way to do this is in the BIOS. That way, theoperating system won't try to reinstall it, which could happen if it were disabled only in thesoftware.

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